Panda Death a Metaphor

Relations between Asia’s two giants China and Japan are rarely straightforward. Despite being the second and third lagest economies in the world and doing hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade, a few choice words by a prominent government official or a territorial incursion by a small fishing boat can quickly escalate into an international diplomatic crisis.

This week saw heightened tensions due to a Japanese government announcement that it intends to nationalise the Senkaku Islands, a group of islands in the South China Sea that are also claimed by China and Taiwan. China responded by sending “fishing vessels” into Japanese-claimed territorial waters around the islands. It was the top story on the evening news. Everyone was very upset. The Japanese government’s hand had been somewhat forced into making the purchase, as the right-wing mayor of Tokyo was already arranging for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to purchase the islands on behalf of the country.

In a seemingly unrelated issue, Nicewife was watching TV on Wednesday when a Newsflash (the type that is usually reserved for earthquakes and typhoons) announced the death of a newborn baby panda at Ueno Zoo. The zoo director was in tears. The Prime Minister described the death as “very disappointing”. A major department store cancelled its “Happy Panda Week” sale. (Apparently dead pandas don’t sell handbags.) The country is in mourning.

Given that Ueno Zoo is also owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, one can’t but help wonder if the baby panda death is an unfortunate metaphor for the future of Sino-Japanese relations.

baby panda
Newborn Panda at Ueno Zoo  (Photo: Ueno Zoological Gardens)
Advertisements

Rainy Season Precipitates Precipitation

We’re a couple of weeks into this year’s rainy season, which will last until mid-July. Although it doesn’t rain every day, the weather is generally wet, humid and muggy. Typhoons usually start rolling north-easterly towards the archipelago at the end of the rainy season, but this year we’re getting an early visitor. At midnight tonight Typhoon No. 4 will pass over the Tokai area. Winds in the eye of the storm are currently gusting to 126km/hour. Typhoon No. 5 is hot on its heels, and is currently expected to arrive around Friday, although whether it will come by this part of Japan remains to be seen.

Today our eldest son was sent home from Nursery School early, much to his surprise and delight. We’ve shuttered the large windows at home and are hoping for the best with regard to this year’s rice crop that has just been planted.

As you can see, typhoons are numbered rather than named in Japan. This helps avoid the feeling that one’s close friend (who happens to be called Katrina or Tracy) might be somehow responsible for misery, death and destruction. How thoughtful.

Typhoon No. 4
Typhoon No. 4. projected course. Source: Yahoo! Japan

Capsule Reconsider Your Choice of Hotel

A few weeks ago I went to Osaka to catch up with my friend from Takarazuka, Crazy K.

To save money we looked for a cheap hotel. Because Japan’s urban areas are some of the most densely populated in the world, the main way hoteliers can reduce their costs is to reduce your space. In the case of our particular hotel they reduced it to this:

Capsule Hotel
Our hotel "rooms". Believe it or not, these are the extra wide capsules - we paid $2 more for that little piece of relative luxury.

It was a bizarre mix of high-tech and high school. After checking in at reception we were given keys to our metal lockers where we could stash all of our stuff. We then refreshed ourselves in the communal baths, bought drinks and snacks from the onsite vending machines, watched TV in the 1980s communal lounge, and then retired to our $25 coffins to die sleep.

The capsules were actually surprisingly comfortable, and I would’ve slept quite well if I hadn’t foolishly consumed caffeinated coffee at 11pm, and if drunken salarymen hadn’t entered loudly at 3am triggering a half-asleep and justifiably grumpy capsule occupant to start shouting “Oi”, “Ooi”, “Ooooiiii”. How considerate.

The next morning I witnessed a quintessentially Japanese sight. A crumpled businessman emerged from his capsule, got dressed outside his high-school-style metal locker in a shirt, cufflinks and a fine business suit, and styled his hair for a power meeting, thereby transforming himself from a shrivelled drunk to a successful business professional in just 5 minutes. It was like I was witnessing the accelerated metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Well maybe not a butterfly… perhaps just some kind of ultra-efficient grey moth.

This is Japan.

Dying for some Lamb

Last week we ate lamb at home for dinner. This is the first time I have eaten lamb in Japan because it is generally expensive and not widely available. We were able to enjoy chowing down on some succulent sheep as a direct result of one of Nicewife’s (distant) relatives passing away.

Let me explain. When one attends a funeral in Japan it is customary to give a sum of money to the deceased’s family. The amount depends how close one’s relationship is to the deceased, but can be as much as $400 AUD for close relatives. Some of this money is used to pay the exorbitant funeral bill, some is kept by the family, and a proportion is returned to the giver as an obligatory thank you gift.

A common way to deal with this “thank you” gift is to purchase a catalogue for a fixed amount (price unmarked) and send this to the giver. This catalogue is a high-quality glossy publication full of merchandise and luxury items of food, and the giver can use the enclosed order form to pick something which is then delivered for free. Nicewife’s parents’ house contains an assortment of goods (a casserole dish, an umbrella stand) that have been obtained in this manner. This time they chose some lamb.

I find this whole concept interesting because generally the Japanese go to great lengths to superstitiously avoid any incidental associations with death, but will quite readily eat food and keep items obtained through these funeral catalogues.